June 5, 2019

Dear friends,
I’ve been on an Asian food kick and it shows no signs of abating. I know I should switch my thinking to French or Spanish or Greek or Lebanese flavors for variety. But not just yet. At the moment, Ruth Reichl has me thinking about spicy Asian noodles.

I’ve just finished reading Reichl’s new book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”
It covers her 10-year stint at Gourmet magazine, from when she was wooed away from the New York Times, where she was restaurant critic, to the soul-numbing day in 2009 when the staff was summarily summoned to a conference room and told the magazine was dead as of that moment. Pack your belongings and leave.

The book is less about food than her previous memoirs, and more about the drama and nuts and bolts of turning the venerable but dated magazine into a relevant, contemporary food magazine filled not just with recipes but cutting-edge articles by some of the best writers on the planet.

Reichl takes us behind the scenes in the Gourmet test kitchen, but also writes about the opulence showered on Conde-Nast editors and how she initially resisted the more decadent perks such as a clothing allowance and liveried car service to the office each day.

In the course of telling the story of Gourmet’s last gasp, Reichl describes the terror of 9/11 and lugging chili and brownies through the ash-clogged streets to the first responders; parties at the penthouse of autocratic Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse; and the untimely death from pancreatic cancer of Jonathan Gold, Gourmet restaurant critic and the first food writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

This is Reichl’s sixth memoir and although her writing has always been elegant, her skill at storytelling has only gotten better.

The books has a bare sprinkling of recipes. Here’s one for the simple meal she served her son after accepting the job at Gourmet — which meant she could have dinner with her family rather than dining nightly in a restaurant as a critic.

RUTH REICHL’S SPICY CHINESE NOODLES

1/2 lb. Chinese wheat noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti
Peanut oil
1/2-inch-long piece fresh ginger
2 scallions
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Chinese black bean paste with garlic
1 tbsp. Chinese bean paste with chili
1/2 lb. ground pork
Sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil, and set aside.

Peel and mince the ginger (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Chop the white parts and slice the green parts of the scallions.

Mix the sugar and the two kinds of bean paste, and set aside.

Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil, toss in the ginger, and stir-fry for about half a minute, until the fragrance is hovering over the wok.

Add the pork and white scallions and stir-fry until all traces of pink have disappeared. Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about two minutes.

Stir in the green scallions and noodles and quickly toss. Add a drop of sesame oil and turn into two small bowls. This makes a perfect snack for two.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed asparagus with sesame oil and sea salt; filet mignon with wine sauce, steamed asparagus; spicy Chinese noodles; fava beans with olive oil, sea salt, tarragon and chives, pan-grilled pork loin chops, more steamed asparagus; peanut slaw with mint and Thai dressing (a duet with Tony); pan-grilled flatiron steak, pan-grilled bell pepper strips with chunky sea salt, a salad of baby lettuces from the garden; chilled tomato soup with dill, skillet-seared mojo shrimp.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Larb at Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls; a green smoothie at Smoothie King in Cuyahoga Falls; tuna poke at Poke Fresh in Akron; small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema (“Rocketman” was outstanding); half of a Subway ham and pepper-cheese sub.

THE MAILBAG
From Joy:
I was looking for info on Foley’s seafood salad mentioned in your last newsletter (no luck) and came across the Akron restaurants info and photos you’ll find on the enclosed link.

Some descriptions say when the restaurants opened and closed, with some not having much info at all. I have to say the info about Senier’s Tavern (opened in 1929) and the Merry-Go-Round was a good read, especially the part about the owner being arrested for allowing public dancing past 11:30 on Saturday nights! There’s a good amount of old Akron restaurant photos you and your readers might recognize or just enjoy. I’m thankful we’re able to see the history kept here: The Golden Age of Restaurants in Summit County

Dear Joy:
What a treasure! I hope everyone is able to access the information from the link you sent — I was able to from your email but not when I retyped the link for this column. I am hoping the glitch is in my writing program. The history of Akron restaurants is from the special collections department of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I especially like the old menus and photos of places such as Kaase’s and O’Neill’s Georgian Room.

From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki and it showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this. They used it in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salad with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you, which brought to mind that the Japanese are famous for long life and thinness.

I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I read was hijiki is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?

Dear Sally:
Hijiki with spaghetti sauce? Yuk.

The three types of seaweed I am most familiar with are nori, kombu and hijiki. Nori is the pressed and dried seaweed sheets that are moistened and wrapped around sushi rolls. The crisp sheets are popular with U.S. kids right now as a snack.

You may have seen kombu chopped and floated in miso soup. It is also used in making dashi (fish broth), and is the base for the Japanese salad, sunomono, that is served at sushi bars, topped with bits of seaweed, vegetables and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. Kombu is incredibly nutritious and is used widely in Asia.

Kombu is flat, wide and smooth. The flavor is unremarkable to me — kind of kale-like in that respect. Hijiki has a more interesting texture. The squiggly, thin strands are dull green or brown and crisp. I find it in Asian stores, usually in the deli section where it is dressed with vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds for a refreshing salad. I cannot imagine eating it with spaghetti sauce or even fruit, for that matter. It is high in minerals and low in calories, as is kombu.

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May 29, 2019

Dear friends,
I am not exactly dieting, as you can see from my Gut Check below. Last week I ate, among other things, shrimp Louie, stewed warm rhubarb over cold strawberry yogurt, Thai papaya salad and Chinese dim sum. In two weeks I’ve lost five pounds.

How? By eating fresh, really flavorful food and laying off everything else. No more potato chips at 9 p.m. just because Tony found big bags for 99 cents at Dollar General. No more toast with nuggets of Kerry Gold butter and a scattering of sea salt. No more big, juicy hamburgers with fries.

I am doing this for my health, not my looks. That ship has already sailed. Also in the past are the deprivation diets that left me hangry and sad. Not worth it. Instead I am eating just really delicious, mostly healthful food. (Yeah, I had an egg tart at dim sum on Memorial Day. So sue me.)

One of the best dinners I had last week was a cookbook failure. I tried Chinese dry-frying but I didn’t have half the ingredients in the recipe and the sauce wouldn’t reduce and the fish started to fall apart so I just said screw it and plated it.

That fish was awesome — spicy but not too hot, with earthy flavors chiming in from across the Chinese spectrum. There was tingle of ginger, a pow of garlic, notes of soy sauce and sesame oil, a touch of Szechuan chili oil, and sherry to mellow it all out.

If you make the sauce one day and the fish the next, this can be a quick dinner.

SZECHUAN FLAVOR BRAISED COD

1 lb. cod fillets
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sherry
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. Szechuan chili oil
5 scallions
2 tsp. minced ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic

Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. sherry
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sweet soy sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

To finish:
2 tsp. sesame oil

Pat fish dry. Rub fillets with salt and sherry and set aside. Measure and/or chop remaining ingredients. Combine sauce ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the scallion greens for garnish.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 4 tablespoons vegetable oil and the Szechuan chili oil. Sauté scallions, ginger and garlic for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add fish fillets and cook until bottoms begins to brown.

Pour sauce over fish and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, spooning sauce over fish occasionally, until fish is cooked through. With a spatula, transfer fish fillets (including the crunchy browned bits on the bottoms) to a small platter. Pour sauce in pan over fish. Drizzle with the sesame oil and garnish with the reserved scallion greens. Serve with steamed rice. Makes 4 servings.

HELP U COOK
Although Chinese dry-frying didn’t work for my fish, I use it frequently for vegetables. The technique is simple: Heat a small amount of oil — say, a tablespoon — in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and seasonings and stir. Then add one-half to three-fourths cup water or broth, clap on the lid and cook over high heat until the liquid evaporates. Uncover and stir again. If the vegetable isn’t done yet, add more liquid and repeat. This allows you to cook vegetables with enough fat to carry the flavor, but not enough fat to constitute frying.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Microwave scrambled egg and ricotta on toast; tomato, shiitake and eggplant sauce over spaghetti squash; warm stewed rhubarb over cold strawberry yogurt; Szechuan braised cod, stir-fried green beans with sesame oil; hamburger patty with sautéed onions and mushrooms; chicken and cabbage soup; fava beans with olive oil and fresh tarragon; shrimp Louie salad with lemon dressing (from a New York Times recipe); Thai ripe papaya chicken salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken, bacon and blue cheese chef’s salad from Sam’s; Thai mussels and a cucumber martini at the Merchant Tavern in Akron; hummus and a chicken shawarma bowl at Shawarma Brothers in Cuyahoga Falls; Thai chicken skewers and brussels sprouts salad from Earth Fare; a small cabbage roll at Euro Mart in Uniontown; one-fourth of a ham and cheese sub from Subway; dim sum at Bo Loong in Cleveland (shao mai, a pan-fried dumpling, a pork dumpling, half a steamed pork bun and an egg tart).

THE MAILBAG
From Kristi Perry:
Just a reminder that your favorite little farm market is open now on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Come check out the Seville Farm Market. We are a producer market so everything you purchase will have been grown or made by the vendor. Our market runs through the end of September. Parking is close by and free.

At this time we have strawberries and rhubarb and spinach and lettuce and some baby kale along with bread, English muffins and sweet treats. There are plants, flowers and herbs. I hope to see you soon.

Dear Kristi:
You will indeed see me soon. The Seville Farm Market at Maria Stanhope Park is one of my favorites because prices are generally lower than at the bigger markets, and everything I have bought there has been exceptional (including Kristi’s homemade English muffins). Check it out at sevillefarmmarket.blogspot.com.

From Carol B., Cuyahoga Falls:
I got excited when I saw that you made “pan-grilled bell pepper strips,” but you didn’t give a recipe. I suppose it’s something you just whip up, but I’d love to know whether you seasoned them or added other ingredients. Since I can’t fit into my clothes anymore and I refuse to buy the next size up, I’m trying to minimize meats and maximize veggies in my diet.

Also, are you still happy with the Instant Pot? I’m thinking of getting one, but I’m afraid it will be just one more thing to clutter up my small kitchen.

Dear Carol:
Nah, I hate that Instant Pot. I think I am just technology-averse. Mine is in the basement, used twice.

Regarding the red pepper strips, I just glossed a cast-iron skillet with oil and cooked them over medium-high heat, lid on, until they softened a bit, then seasoned them with chunky sea salt. Nothing special. When three-packs of bell peppers are on sale at Aldi, I snap them up and use them as a side vegetable with dinner.

I sympathize about the tight summer clothes. I let my guard down in France and just kept eating like a lumberjack through fall and winter. Ten pounds later, I joined the Internet diet program, Noom. I’m down 5 pounds in two weeks and eating more mindfully.

From Carrie:
Any chance you will share the recipe for the pineapple mousse pie you made for your brother? I LOVE pineapple! Years ago you shared your mom’s pineapple cookie recipe. I’d love to have this one too.

I was recently reminiscing about Foley’s seafood pasta salad, which was a favorite for a long time. Whoever moved in after Foley’s kept it on the menu for a while (was it Ken Stewart or was someone in there between?) as “Former Owner’s Seafood Pasta Salad.” I would love to have that recipe. Any idea where to find it? Did the Beacon ever print it?

Dear Carrie:
My mother’s pineapple pie recipe has been shared before as Angel Food Pie. I’m glad to reprint it, because it is one of my favorites. It uses raw egg whites, so use pasteurized or be careful where you source them.

As for the salad, a friend who worked for both Foley’s and Ken Stewart’s in Akron (no owner in between), says the Former Owner’s Salad on Ken Stewart’s initial menu was iceberg lettuce topped with ground chipped ham on one half, shredded American cheese on the other half, and a garlic Italian dressing over all. She doesn’t recall a seafood salad. Does anyone else?

MOM’S ANGEL FOOD PIE
2 egg, separated
1 cup drained, crushed pineapple
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. (scant) cornstarch
1 cup cold water or the juice from the pineapple
Dash of salt
1 baked, 9-inch pie shell

Beat egg yolks with a spoon or whisk in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, pineapple, water and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat.

Whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into warm pineapple mixture. Spoon into pie crust. Chill.

May 22, 2019

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’m the only one who has faced the conundrum of how to sauce a grilled steak. An unadorned, charcoal-grilled strip or ribeye is fancy enough for Tony and me most of the time. But when company calls or when we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, grilled steak could use a frill or two.

In the past I have minimally solved the problem with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese or, for grill-smoked prime rib or cowboy steak, a simple horseradish sauce made by stirring prepared horseradish into thinned mayonnaise. But now I can do better. Now I can lavish the steaks with a voluptuous blue cheese and port wine sauce.

I devised this pan-sauce-without-fond a few months ago but thought it was too simple to share. Now that grilling season is here, I have pulled out the recipe and used it myself, a clue that others probably need just such a sauce, also. So here goes.

A “fond,” by the way, is the meat drippings that stick to the bottom of a pan after cooking. It is the basis of a good sauce. When you grill, you have no pan and therefore no fond. No fond, no sauce.

In its absence, I built layers of flavor by sautéing garlic and onion — just a bit of each — in plenty of butter, then adding beef broth and reducing it to a couple of spoonfuls. I then added port wine and reduced that. Then I added a cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred until it melted into the wine reduction, producing a deeply flavored, satin-textured sauce. I used port because it goes well with beef and is a fortified wine that can be kept for months, opened, in your cupboard.

The techniques I used to make this delicious blue cheese-port wine sauce are known to any good cook, so anyone could have figured this out. But I didn’t until recently, so I figured maybe you didn’t, either.

A big selling point of the sauce, for me, is that it can be made in the time you rest the steaks before serving. That should be about ten minutes. If you have all your sauce ingredients measured and ready to go, you can beat that time by half, giving you breathing room to finish your pre-dinner cocktail.

BLUE CHEESE-PORT WINE SAUCE FOR GRILLED STEAKS

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup port wine
1 cup crumbled blue cheese plus more for garnish if desired

Heat a medium skillet (7- to 8-inch diameter) over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. The garlic should not taste raw, but do not brown.

Pour beef broth into pan, increase heat to high and boil until reduced by half. Pour in wine, stir well and boil over high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Reduce heat to medium, add cheese and stir until melted.

Immediately spoon sauce over steaks and top with a sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese if desired. Makes enough sauce for 4 steaks, about 2 tablespoons per steak. The recipe may be doubled if you like a lot of sauce, but the sauce is rich and you really don’t need much.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pineapple mousse pie for my brother; Japanese pork curry over rice; pan-grilled boneless pork chop with a sweet soy sauce glaze, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt; grilled steaks (filet and strip) with blue cheese-port wine sauce, fava beans with chopped fresh tarragon and olive oil, pan-grilled bell pepper strips.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Marinated, grilled chicken, beef and kefta, baba ghanouj, pita bread, tabbouli, hummus and kibbee from Mediterranean Bakery & Grill on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; tossed salad topped with grilled chicken and raspberry dressing, iced tea at Hot Shots Bar & Grill in East Liverpool; chicken kabobs, green papaya salad and a hot chili wonton at the Cleveland Asian Festival; a quarter of a ham and provolone sub from Subway; a chicken burrito bowl sans rice from Chipotle.

TIDBITS
I was blown away last week during an odyssey in search of my favorite Ahmad Ceylon tea. I found it at two Middle Eastern stores off Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — one that I’ve been to before but that has expanded, and another that is new to me but that I’ll return to often.

The big news: I finally found fresh fava beans. They are sold in Middle Eastern stores. Who knew?

I also found what may be the best $40 meal around. It is gigantic, delicious and it feeds four. It’s the combination dinner (actually, $39.99) at Falls Mediterranean Bakery & Grill at 526 Graham Road in the plaza where Kifli’s used to be.

Call ahead (330-923-7777) or be prepared to wait for 30 minutes. Either way, it’s worth it. You can shop the wide selection of Middle Eastern foods or watch the friendly guys behind the counter prepare food in a brick oven and wait on a steady stream of hijab-clad customers.

Food is carryout only, so we didn’t know what we had until we unpacked the two bags at home. It was a feast. In one bag was a foil pan heaped with jasmine rice and topped with grilled, marinated boneless chicken, beef and the gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and beef fingers called “kefta.” The chicken was tender. The beef, not so much.

In the other bag were plastic one-pound tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and some of the best baba ghanouj I’ve had, with big, soft pitas to scoop it up. Two small, tapered, meat-filled kibbee were inhaled on the way to the table.

I didn’t try the store’s meat pies because I already had a bag of the terrific fatayer I bought at Fuad Khayyat’s Vine Valley in Akron’s Merriman Valley (https://vinevalleyfoods.com/). I skipped the Ahmad tea and fresh and frozen (!) fava beans, too, because I had just loaded up on them at East Market, 3464 Hudson Drive in Cuyahoga Falls. That store, by the way, has moved to a plaza across Hudson Drive from its previous location behind Starbuck’s.

Are there other local Middle Eastern stores or restaurants that I haven’t heard of? Let me know. Meanwhile, try some Ahmad Ceylon tea. It’s great, and just finding it can be an adventure.

THE MAILBAG

From Rob S.:
Regarding various types/brands of salt, Cooks Illustrated published the following set of equivalencies some time back: 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

Diamond Crystal, with its light, flaky crystals, is less salty by volume than Morton’s, and both are less salty by volume than table salt. The finer the crystals, the tighter the salt packs into a given volume (e.g., a teaspoon) and the saltier it will make your dish. Of course, all are equally salty when measuring by weight instead of volume.

Best is when a recipe clearly states what type of salt they are referring to and, if kosher salt, which brand (Cooks Illustrated, for example, always uses Diamond Crystal in its recipes). You can easily convert with the formula above if you don’t have the type specified. If the recipe gives the amount of salt by weight (and you have a kitchen scale) that works equally well.

Dear Rob:
Thank you for the last word on the salt question. I might add that even salts with the same flakiness and weight can vary in flavor because of the mineral content. I once tasted every brand of sea salt sold at West Point Market, from Maldon to some chunky stuff from Maine — almost a dozen in all — and the saltiness and
flavor varied widely.

From Pat S.:
Hi, Jane. This may seem a minor concern in the world of foodies but I have wondered nonetheless. When watching expert TV cooks in food prep I notice most do not fully scrape out the container of liquid ingredients with a silicone spatula when incorporating beaten eggs and oil into cakes mixes, etc. Doesn’t scraping out the residue of liquid ingredients matter in the outcome of a recipe, especially in baking? I always do it.

Dear Pat:
Yes, it matters! TV cooks are more interested in the camera and their script than in the details of cooking because the ingredients they stir up in front of the camera almost never actually get cooked/baked/grilled. There isn’t time. The mixtures made on camera are usually thrown away and a finished version made earlier (often by someone else) is pulled from the oven/stove/grill. Been there, done that.

Also, not much camera time is allotted to the assembly part we see, so TV cooks often just quickly dump premeasured ingredients into the pan or bowl. But you should keep scraping.

May 15, 2019

Dear friends,

Between Marie Kondo and my college roommate, I finally cleaned the house. I mean really cleaned, as in waxing the shower and donating all of the clothes that no longer fit. Well, most of them. I’m still hanging onto the high school majorette uniform my mom made and an expensive purple velveteen pantsuit I bought at Macy’s in 2005 and wore twice.

My drawers now are so beautiful I want to haul people in off the street for viewings. Crew socks are neatly rolled and lined up in a long, slim box. Ankle socks nestle in another box, separated by color.

My sweaters are put away for the season, all the floors are vacuumed, shampooed or scrubbed, the windows sparkle and wood furniture glistens. Most of this frenzy was sparked by a visit from a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 50 years. Once I began cleaning, I couldn’t stop. I even dragged poor Tony into the project.

The week involved a lot of cooking, too. The fanciest meal was cioppino over polenta, which Manda had requested after she saw the photo I took for this newsletter a few months ago. We invited her friend from Cleveland and the four of us had a long, leisurely meal. I had intended to serve a puffy strawberry pavlova for dessert, but by that point I was cooked out. Whew.

The day after I put Manda on her plane home, I eyed the extra eggs and strawberries in the refrigerator. I would make that Pavlova just for Tony and me. A Pavlova, for the uninitiated, is a meringue baked in the shape of a cake and topped with fruit. The meringue is crisp outside but soft and marshmallow-like inside. I had no guests to please, so I would make the normally sugar-intensive Pavlova without sugar. Could it be done?

Yes, it can. When you sub Splenda for sugar in a Pavlova recipe and add a bit of cornstarch for stiffening, you end up with a healthful dessert of basically baked egg whites and sliced strawberries. The Splenda must be liquefied over heat with water and lemon juice before adding it to the egg whites, but the process is easy. I am smitten, and intend to make this beauty all summer.

If you have no need to limit sugar or avoid Splenda for some reason, find another recipe. This is for those of us who hunger for something sweet but must avoid sugar. The splash of balsamic vinegar on the strawberries intensifies their flavor.

The recipe serves four, but I’m kind of glad Tony and I had this dessert all to ourselves.

SUGAR-FREE STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA

For the Pavlova:
6 egg whites
1/2 cup Splenda granular
4 tbsp. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch

For the topping:
3 cups halved medium-sized strawberries (about 1 lb.)
2 tbsp Splenda granular or to taste
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Sugar-free whipped topping, optional

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Begin to whip egg whites on low speed. Meanwhile, combine Splenda, water and lemon juice in a very small stainless steel saucepan. Heat to 175 on an instant-read thermometer or until the liquid has almost reduced and begins to look sticky.

The egg whites should be at the soft peak stage at this point. If not, increase the speed of the mixer and whip until foamy. Slowly add Splenda mixture while whipping. Stop mixer and sift in the cornstarch. Increase speed to high and beat to the stiff peak stage. Do not over beat.

Fit a piece of parchment paper to a baking sheet. With a pencil, trace a 10-inch circle on the parchment (use a plate). Turn the pencil side down. You should still be able to see the circle through the parchment. Using the circle as a guide, dollop egg whites onto the parchment in a circle to make cake-like structure. Slightly indent top with the back of a spoon, so it can serve as a bowl for the berries.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it just begins to color. Turn off oven, open door and let meringue sit until it is cool.

While meringue cools, combine strawberries, Splenda and balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, spoon some whipped topping, if using, into the indentation of the meringue and top with strawberries and their juices. Cut like a cake to serve. Makes 4 large or 6 medium servings.

TIDBIT
Now I know what all the fuss is about. I finally visited Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn and I am a believer. It is as close as you’ll come to an Italian espresso bar outside Italy.

About eight jewel-like colors of house-made gelato beckon from a glass-fronted case when you walk through the rest of the space and a terrace outdoors. We sat at the counter where I could watch coffee being brewed by a number of methods. There are drip pots, French presses, an impressive bank of sleek espresso machines, and baristas hand-pouring steaming water over coffee by the cup and the pot. Take your pick. I had just a regular cup of dark-roast coffee (drip coffee, $1.75) and it was superb.

The sandwiches on crisp flatbread taste fresh, not pre-assembled. I had the chicken piadina — chicken breast chunks with mixed greens and a film of melted Cheddar and Jack cheeses lacquering the inside of the flatbread. A couple of soups and salads also are available. In another life I will return and chow down on the breakfasts toasts. For now, I’ll just dream of craggy toast topped with bananas, strawberries, Nutella and powdered sugar. Or fresh bananas, almond butter, cinnamon and honey. Sigh.

Cafe Arnone is at 2840 W. Market St. in Fairlawn. The website is cafearnone.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Avocado and feta salad with fresh tarragon and vinaigrette dressing; sugar-free Pavlova with balsamic strawberries; coconut-ginger chickpea soup, steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; pan-roasted steelhead trout with roasted carrots, bell pepper, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives, and steamed asparagus with balsamic vinegar; avocado toast, morels fried in butter; steamed asparagus with lemon juice and coarse sea salt; tuna couscous salad; baked spaghetti squash with ricotta cheese and meat sauce; steamed asparagus topped with a poached egg, lemon juice and sea salt. (My two asparagus patches are going crazy).

What I ate out:
A cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Thai salad with chicken at Panera; orichette with tomato-meat sauce, arugula and avocado salad, garlic bread, fresh fruit at a friend’s house; pad Thai at the Giant Eagle in Green; Cobb salad with two warm pita triangles and coffee at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; chicken piadina (flatbread sandwich) and coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; sugar-free vanilla frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy, Vancouver, Canada:
Sorry to hear about Geoff Hewitt’s passing. I thought you might be interested in the fresh tomato soup recipe served at Vikram Vij’s Indian cuisine restaurants in Vancouver. I have his cookbooks, one of which has the tomato soup, but have not tried the recipe myself as yet. Vij mentions in his cookbook that they serve the soup (as a light lunch) over pakoras (cauliflower and potato fritters) at Vij’s and Rangli in Vancouver.

The soup consists of 5 or 6 pakoras in a bowl, then the tomato soup is poured over the fritters and garnished with cilantro. You’ll notice in the recipe instructions they either use ginger or garlic but never both at the same time. Here’s the link to the recipe:
https://www.alive.com/recipe/tomato-coriander-and-ginger-soup/.

From Jenny K:
In terms of baking and/or savory cooking, what kind of kosher salt should be used when a recipe specifically calls for that type? Morton’s is a much coarser salt than Diamond Crystal Kosher. I assume they must not measure the same. Thanks!

Dear Jenny:
You ask the tough questions. I have always assumed recipes that called for kosher salt meant the coarse kind. That may be because that’s what I always mean when I write recipes. Or it may be because Morton’s is the only kind of kosher salt I remember seeing in grocery stores.

I tried to find out whether, as I suspect, Morton’s is the top dog in the kosher salt market. Failing that, I’m just going to go with my gut and guess that recipes that call for kosher salt mean the coarse kind. If the recipe specifies “flaked,” add a few extra grains of coarse salt to make up for it.

In any case, unless your recipe calls for gobs of salt, the difference will not be so great that you can’t adjust the seasoning after tasting. If using Diamond Crystal, go light on the salt before tasting.

May 8, 2019

Dear friends,
And I use that salutation sincerely. I have corresponded with so many of you for so long that I do feel you are my friends. Losing one of you is painful, as it was when long-time reader Geoff Hewitt died on April 26.

Geoff had been in failing health, said Sherrie W., a close friend of Geoff’s who let me know.

I had no idea. Geoff and I traded emails about his favorite Cleveland Asian restaurants just two weeks before he died. His picks: Siam Cafe, Won Ton Gourmet, Szechuan Cafe and for dim sum, Bo Loong.

Over the years we discussed many food issues, from the price of produce at farmers’ markets (he was in favor of paying top dollar to support local farmers) to the best restaurants in Florida.

I met Geoff just twice. The first time was years ago when I interviewed him for an In the Kitchen column for the Beacon Journal. I learned he was a professional photographer who specialized in auto racing. He loved to cook almost as much as he loved to dine out. He shared his recipe for bread pudding with coconut and pecans, which is in my cookbook and which I reprinted in this newsletter a month or so ago.

The second time was at my yard sale last summer. Geoff dropped by just to visit. We sat in lawn chairs under an awning and talked for at least an hour. He told me he learned to make the bread pudding in a cooking class in New Orleans. He traveled the country for his job, and often made time for culinary detours. His knowledge of restaurants was extensive. He could have written a restaurant guidebook for all 50 states.

Before Geoff died, he wanted to know if any of my newsletter readers could figure out the ingredients in the tomato soup at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn. I printed his request, but got no answers.

Generous to the end, Geoff sent me his version of the soup. It isn’t quite the same as the restaurant’s but it’s pretty good, said. I know he would be pleased that I’m sharing it with you.

So long, Geoff. You made my life a bit more delicious.

GEOFF’S INDIAN TOMATO SOUP
2 tbsp. butter or ghee
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cans (28 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black mustard seeds (preferred) or yellow mustard seeds or mustard powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan or saucier, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté
the onion for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add the ginger and cook two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and all the ingredients down to and including the sugar. Cover and cook for about two hours at a low simmer.

Stir in garlic and salt. Use an immersion blender to make a finely chopped puree. Alternately, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. As a last resort you could get by with a potato masher but this wouldn’t make the soup thin enough.

Add the cream, stir and add the cilantro. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash halves; chicken and rice salad with pineapple and dates; steak salad with roast butternut squash and sizzled asparagus; microwave-scrambled egg and ricotta with hot sauce and toast; pineapple mousse pie; cioppino (Italian shellfish stew) over polenta.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chocolate chunk croissant from the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; steamed edamame, octopus carpaccio, salmon nigiri, tamago nigiri at Sushi Katsu in Akron; fried pickle burger, french fries and coffee at Wally Waffle in Bath (Montrose) (majorly delicious); Korean barbecued beef taco, a Thai chicken with peanut sauce taco and a Modelo beer at Funky Truckeria in Norton.

TIDBIT
My favorite food festival of the year, the Cleveland Asian Festival, is coming up. Clear some time on Saturday, May 18 or Sunday, May 19 to eat your way through a United Nations of Asian cuisine and watch some quality entertainment (singing, dancing) by various Northeast Ohio Asian groups.

The festival sprawls along Payne Avenue around 27th Street, with a World Marketplace, social and service club exhibits, and two entertainment tents in addition to the Asian food court area, which is filled with edibles from local Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indian and Nepali restaurants. Did I miss any?

Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Don’t bring your dog (we tried last year). Check out the website at clevelandasianfestival.org.

THE MAILBAG
From Mary D.:
I found an unfiltered extra virgin olive oil at Marc’s — Carapelli.

Dear Mary:
I rushed right out and bought a bottle. The olive flavor is pronounced and, as you mentioned in a follow-up email, grassy. It is delicious. I will save it for salad dressings and other uncooked applications in which the flavor can shine. I am glad to see that Carapelli is on the list of certified extra-virgin oils. Thanks for the tip.

From Michele Sandridge:
Clamato is sold everywhere — Marc’s, Acme, etc. Look in the fruit juice aisle.

Dear Michele:
I’m embarrassed. Thanks for setting me straight. As Ken Stewart’s bartender (and my frequent partner in crime), you should know.

May 1, 2019

Dear friends,

I have never celebrated Cinco de Maya, a cheesy made-for-America holiday, but I may this year. The reason is a Mexican party-in-a-glass (or mug or pitcher) called “michelada” that I just learned to make.

On Saturday I watched Tony’s young Mexican friend, Antonio, assemble this beer cocktail in a terra-cotta “glass” that looked like a vase and probably held a quart. I wrote down the names of the spices and elixirs lined up on his kitchen counter. I watched him garnish the rim of the gargantuan drink with alternating cucumber slices and shrimp. It was spectacular.

Michelada is now my house drink. How it is it I haven’t heard of it before? I have been to Mexico twice and many American Mexican restaurants from haute to humble, but never stumbled across the drink. It is the country’s most popular cocktail, according to the Internet.

The drink is made with equal parts lager beer (Antonio used Modelo) and Clamato juice spiced with Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and Tajin (chile-lime powder), with Chamoy sauce (a fruity hot sauce), Tajin and salt on the rim. And, of course, those cucumbers and shrimp.

I hadn’t seen Clamato — clam-flavored tomato juice — since I was a kid. You may have to visit a Mexican grocery store to find it, which you’ll have to do anyway to buy Maggi seasoning (a dark-brown liquid that looks like soy sauce and is made from vegetable protein). Pick up a big jar of Tajin chile-lime seasoning while you’re there, because after you taste it, you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything.

MICHELADA

Chamoy sauce (fruity, chile-spiced syrup, optional)
Coarse sea salt
Tajin (chile-lime powder)

1 1/2 cup Clamato juice
1/4 cup lime juice (juice of 2 limes)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Maggi seasoning
1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning
1 to 2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
12 oz. Mexican lager beer

6 large shrimp
6 cucumber slices

Pour some Chamoy onto a saucer. Dip the rims of two large glasses in the fruity hot sauce. (Or wet the rims with a wedge of lime) Place sea salt on one half of a clean saucer and some Tajin on the other half. Dip the rims of the glasses in the salt and spice, so that half of each rim is coated with salt and half with spice. Fill glasses with ice cubes.

In a pitcher, combine Clamato, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi seasoning, Tajin seasoning and hot pepper sauce. Stir well. Fill each glass half full with the Clamato mixture. Top with beer and stir gently. Garnish rims with shrimp and cucumber slices. Makes 2 large drinks.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Baked potato with sour cream, lox and capers; microwave ricotta-egg scramble.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Chicken burrito bowl from Chipotle; T-bone steak, baked potato, tossed salad and a roll at Brown Derby in Medina Township (a terrific special for about $16 on Mondays and Tuesdays); coleslaw, lamb and beef gyro with cucumber-yogurt sauce at On Tap in Medina Township; steak and blue cheese salad from Giant Eagle; spicy shrimp ceviche and chips with guacamole at Tony’s friend’s house; blue cheese burger and coleslaw at Fisher’s Cafe & Pub in Peninsula.

THE MAILBAG
From S.H.:
I am so glad you came to the same conclusion as I on the Crack an Egg product. I purchased one carton and told myself that the manufacturer grossly overcharged for a spoonful of tired veggies, etc., and started to make my own.

Dear S.H.:
I wonder how many of us across the country have started microwaving eggs for breakfast because of that product. As I wrote last week, the secret to decent microwave scrambled eggs in to avoid overcooking them. But the very best eggs, I’ve come to believe, are those scrambled with ricotta cheese — 1/4 cup per egg. The eggs turn out creamy every time, with little visible trace of the cheese. It just looks like a fluffy pile of scrambled eggs.

From Linda C.:
Thanks for the idea of chopping vegetables and freezing them in small packets. So many recipes call for several veggies in small amounts that I usually just pick a couple because I don’t know what to do with all the extras. This is a game changer. Thanks. What veggies freeze best? Any to avoid freezing?

Dear Linda:
Frozen will never taste as good as fresh, but they can be convenient. Cooked bulb and green onions and bell peppers freeze well. So do firm root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips. Green beans — blanched — are good freezers. Stay away from vegetables with a high water content, such as zucchini. I imagine you are most interested in the aromatics that are called for in many recipes. Onions, yes. Garlic, no because the flavor mellows in the freezer.

April 24, 2019

Dear friends,
There are breakfast people and those who gag at the thought of eating before noon. I am among the former. I wake up every morning ravenous for breakfast.

What I would like to eat and what I do eat are polar opposites. I long for pancakes topped with over-easy eggs and real maple syrup. I dream of fried mush dabbed with butter and drizzled with maple syrup. I yearn for brown sugar-sweetened oatmeal showered with fruit and nuts.

What I do eat: Yogurt. Cottage cheese and blueberries. Scrambled eggs and a few grapes, hold the toast. Low-carb eating can be the pits.

Low-carb breakfasts can also be boring, which is why I was intrigued by an inane new product, Crack an Egg. It consists of a little cardboard bowl of various chopped vegetables (onions, green peppers) and shredded cheese. You crack an egg into the stuff, stir and microwave for about a minute, stirring midway through.

Why inane? Because you can do this so much better yourself — fresher, cheaper and without the excessive packaging.

I bought a couple of the packages, tasted and then started making my own. I made delicious versions such as scrambled egg with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese hit with some oregano, and egg with lox, capers and a squeeze of lemon. My favorite was probably the creamy mugful of leftover Easter ham, ricotta cheese and an egg seasoned with a grind of nutmeg. In the summer when my herb garden gets going, I’ll add mix up even more varieties. Yum.

If you are pressed for time or just stupid-sleepy in the morning (as I am), you can chop a bunch of ingredients and freeze them in little portions just right for microwaving with one egg. The only caveat is that you must be careful not to overcook the egg. Too much microwaving yields Styrofoam-like eggs. At high power in my 1100-watt oven, an egg with two or three tablespoons of add-ins is set and creamy at 50 seconds; at a minute, it tastes like packing peanuts. A recipe with 1/2 cup add-ins, such as my ricotta-ham egg cup, cooks up creamy and tender in 70 seconds, stirring after the first 20 seconds.

These simple scrambles are low-carb, lightening-fast solutions to breakfast boredom.

GREEK EGG CUP
1 tbsp. sliced Kalamata olives
1 tbsp. diced tomato
2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
Salt, pepper
Pinch of oregano
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a pottery mug and beat with a fork. Microwave on high power for 20 seconds. Stir. Microwave 20 seconds longer or until eggs are mostly set. Stir. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes before eating. Serves 1.

LOX AND CAPERS EGG CUP

1 tsp. drained capers
1 tbsp. (heaped) chopped cold-smoked salmon (lox)
1 egg
1 fingernail-sized piece of butter
Salt, pepper
1 tbsp. sour cream

Combine capers, lox, egg, butter, salt and pepper in a pottery mug. Beat with a fork. Microwave for 20 seconds on high power. Stir well. Microwave 20 seconds longer or until eggs are mostly set. Stir. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Top with sour cream. Serves 1.

HAM AND RICOTTA EGG CUP
1/4 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
Dash of salt
Pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg
1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a pottery mug. Beat very well with a fork. Microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave for 40 seconds longer or until eggs are almost set. Stir and let stand for 2 minutes. Serves 1.

TIDBITS
This month in his often-hilarious monthly column in Mimi Magazine, my friend Mitch Allen details his annual diet in order to fit into his summer shorts. The diet consists mostly of vegetables and fish. Midway through, Mitch asks a question we all have been pondering: “…why was there no tilapia when I was a kid? It can’t be a new species. It’s not like God said, ‘Oh, wait, I forgot the tilapia…’ and went back and created it.”

Exactly right, Mitch. The answer is that tilapia has been here all along but on another continent — Africa. It reproduces like crazy, which is why someone (I couldn’t find out who) got the idea to farm it and sell it to Americans.

Tilapia is actually an umbrella name for a bunch of fish called “cichlid.” A lot of them look like goldfish or koi. I do not eat tilapia because most of our supply comes from China, where U.S. safety standards do not apply. The tilapia farmed there are raised in freshwater lakes in such concentrations that they live in their own waste. They are kept “healthy” with chemicals. They are an invasive species, so when they escape to unfarmed waterways, they decimate the native fish population.

Add to this the fact that tilapia are low in omega 3 fatty acids — the reason we’re told to eat more fish — and you have plenty of reason to ditch tilapia in favor of wild salmon and trout.

Bottom line: If you can find tilapia farm-raised in the U.S., go for it. The next-best choice is tilapia from South American fish farms. Otherwise, skip it.

At least tilapia is in no danger of being overfished like our past piscine obsessions. Remember the orange roughy craze? Swordfish mania? White sea bass (actually, Patagonian triggerfish) on every restaurant menu? Unlike those fish, tilapia is in plentiful supply. I just don’t know if you’d want to eat it.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Enchilada casserole; egg salad; roasted steelhead trout with cubed potatoes, brussels sprouts, Greek olives and cherry tomatoes with oregano and olive oil; pan-grilled top sirloin steak with wine sauce, pan-grilled asparagus with sesame oil, cherry tomato and feta salad; lentil soup; baked honey-glazed ham and cornbread.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Mu shu pork with Chinese pancakes and a shrimp and green bean stir fry from Chin’s Place in Akron (both dishes were excellent); rice cakes with shrimp and hot jasmine tea at Han Chinese Kabob in Cleveland; eggs over easy, grits, bacon and a biscuit at Cracker Barrel.

THE MAILBAG
From Geoff:
I’m pleased to see you finally got to try Bombay Grill’s tomato soup. It’s one of the best soups I’ve eaten and certainly the best tomato soup. Perhaps you and your readers could make an attempt at duplicating the recipe. I’ve had little luck getting the ingredients from the owners. I’d love to make a big batch, portion freeze it and have it whenever I’d like.

Your readers should know about a favorite Asian restaurant of mine in North Canton called Mint and Lime. I’ve been going there for a couple of years and it’s better than most local Asian places and comes close to being as good as those in Cleveland. Everything I’ve had there has been exceptional. Here’s the website: http://www.mintandlimeasianbistro.com.

Geoff:
The flavors of that soup are too complex for me to figure out. Does anyone else want to take a crack at it? I found many versions of Indian tomato soup on the Internet, but none that sounds like the soup I had at Bombay Grill.

I see that the owners of Mint and Lime are related to the owners of my favorite Asian place, Basil Asian Bistro in Canton, so I’m not surprised it’s good. Thanks for the recommendation.

April 17, 2019

Dear friends,
I finished a big writing project on Saturday and celebrated with a fun dinner. I made an intensely coconut-y quinoa and topped it with skewers of shrimp and mango chunks lacquered with sweet soy sauce and seared in a skillet. It was a party on a plate.

I got the idea from “Flavor Matrix” by James Briscione, which I borrowed from the library. The book is based on pairings of foods, determined by a computer based on their molecular similarities. Sound complicated? The book does nothing to simplify matters. And when you do drill down to a nugget of information, many of the pairings seem obvious — citrus with ginger and cilantro, cucumber with yogurt, and winter squash with butter and cheese.

Still, I gleaned enough inspiration to come up with this shrimp, coconut and quinoa dish. The author used oatmeal instead of quinoa and the idea does seem novel. Quinoa was another choice, and that’s what I had in the cupboard. If you want to try the oatmeal version, have at it.

The proportions of most of the ingredients in the recipe are mine, as are the kabobs. the tropical vibe was just what I needed on a stormy night when I was in the mood to celebrate.

COCONUT QUINOA

1 cup quinoa (the kind that takes 15 minutes to cook)
2 tbsp. butter
4 green onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)
Rinse quinoa well under cold running water. Heat butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Sauté onions and garlic until they release their aromas and the onions begin to wilt. Stir in salt. Stir in quinoa. Stir in coconut milk and coconut.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. If any liquid remains, uncover and boil until it has evaporated. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Mound on two dinner plates and top with kabobs.

Note: Frozen, shredded unsweetened coconut can be found in Asian and health-food stores).

SHRIMP AND MANGO KABOBS
4 to 6 wood skewers, cut to fit into a large skillet or cast-iron grill pan
12 to 18 large raw shrimp, depending on appetite
1 firm, slightly underripe mango
3 scallions, green part only
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup sweet soy sauce

Note: This makes two to three kabobs per person, depending on appetite. I was fine with two. Tony wanted three. Each kabob has three shrimp. Use your judgement.

Soak the skewers in warm water to prevent them from splintering when you skewer the food; even a few minutes helps).

Peel the shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the cheeks off the mango and score the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Cut the chunks away from the skin. Fold the green part of the scallions accordion-style into 1-inch lengths, two bends per piece.

In order, thread on a skewer: shrimp, mango, onion, shrimp, mango, shrimp. Repeat with remaining skewers.

Heat a large cast-iron grill pan or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add oil and swirl to coat pan. In batches, place skewers in pan and sear on one side. Turn and brush seared side with soy sauce. After a minute, turn and brush other side with soy sauce. Turn once more.

Shrimp should be done at this point. If not, cook a few seconds longer. Remove from pan and place two or three skewers on top of each mound of coconut quinoa. Serves two.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken stir-fry with shredded brussels sprouts over rice; spice-rubbed, wood-smoked spare ribs; tomato meat sauce baked in a spaghetti squash half with Parmesan; coconut quinoa with shrimp and mango kabobs.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Spicy fried chicken and green beans with potatoes from Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken in Akron; half of a Subway roast beef sandwich; barbecued pork chops, green beans, salad and hot tea at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; a cup of vegetable soup and half of a spicy Asian salad with chicken at Panera; a salmon salad from Acme; scrambled eggs with ham and feta cheese, hash browns, wheat toast and coffee at Michael’s A.M. in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From A.K.:
I have a question about olive oil. I do understand that olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil have different cooking profiles —extra-virgin (evoo) has a much lower smoking temperature because of higher particulate content, etc. The thing is, 97 percent of recipes call for simply “olive oil,” which to me tastes like vegetable oil with more health benefits. Often I will see a recipe that seems to cry out for evoo, the taste of which I love. I say use evoo when the recipe calls for low-heat cooking and simply olive oil for heavier sautéing.

So, my question: Do most recipes calling for olive oil actually mean evoo? Or should it be open to the intended use? Or do we simply use regular olive oil unless a recipe calls for evoo? Those recipes are few and far between.

Dear A.K.:
Two issues are germane here. First, many so-called extra-virgin olive oils have been found to not be the first pressing. The olive oil scam erupted in 2015, when testing showed that many Italian olive oils (some say up to two-thirds) were not extra-virgin as the labels claimed. More than 30 producers were arrested after the fraud came to light. To make sure your oil is extra-virgin, consult the list compiled by the North American Olive Oil Association at aboutoliveoil.com. Click on “Certified Quality Seal” in the menu across the top.

The second issue is that, in my opinion, many recipe writers use “olive oil” when they often mean “extra-virgin” because that’s the only kind of olive oil most Americans buy. I think you should trust your tastebuds. If you think a recipe would taste better with extra-virgin, use it. The exception, of course, is when the oil is to be heated at a high temperature. That would kill the flavor and produce smoke, so you’re better off using vegetable oil or regular olive oil.

I used to buy a very fruity, unfiltered (and expensive) extra-virgin olive oil that I used unheated in things like dressings or to drizzle on a dish as a finishing touch. I got it at West Point Market, and haven’t seen it anywhere else. I think Russ Vernon imported it directly from the producer. For sautéing, I used (and still use) a less-expense jug-type extra-virgin. For frying, I use canola. So basically, I think your instincts are correct.

April 10, 2019

Dear friends,
I am not shopping and I’m barely cooking. My life is on hold while I try to meet a writing deadline that’s bearing down on me. I retired to get away from these horrid deadlines. So why am I doing this? To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I don’t enjoy writing, but I like having written.

I am among a group of former Beacon Journal reporters and editors who are writing a history of the Beacon Journal. Former columnist and editor Stuart Warner (now editor in chief of the Phoenix New Times) is editing the book, which will be published by the University of Akron Press. Coming soon (but not too soon) to a book store near you.

My chapter is about the newspaper’s food coverage from the 1800s until now. The historical research was interesting, and it has been fun talking to former editors, food writers and restaurant critics. But now I have a mountain of information to organize and whittle down to size.

All of this is one big excuse for not creating an original recipe this week. Probably not next week, either. I did cook something new and yummy two weeks ago, though, with this deadline in mind. The dish is a crisp roast chicken that is cut up and doused with a simple but luscious garlic-ginger sauce before serving.

The sauce is from Momofuku chef David Chang. He uses it on chicken wings and octopus and calls it “octo vinaigrette.” I suggest making a big jar of it and using it as a dipping sauce for Asian snacks such as egg rolls, skewers and lettuce wraps. It will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

ROAST CHICKEN WITH GARLIC-GINGER SAUCE

1 whole broiler-fryer chicken, about 3 lbs.
Oil
Salt, pepper
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes (Chang uses 1 fresh bird’s eye or serrano chile, chopped)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
Fresh-ground black pepper

Trim excess fat from chicken and wash it inside and out. Pat dry. Rub the skin with oil and season it with salt and pepper. Place on a rack over a roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 60 to 75 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh not touching the bone reads 170 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

While the chicken roasts, combine remaining ingredients in a jar and shake well. The sauce may be made even earlier — the day before is ideal — as its flavor improves as it sits.

After the chicken has rested, cut it into serving pieces, arrange on a platter and splash with about half of the sauce. Pass remaining sauce at the table. Serves 3 to 4.

Note: I served the chicken on a bed on stir-fried kale. The sauce dribbled down and flavored the greens. They were delicious.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pumpkin pie; mushroom and potato soup with sherry and wilted spinach; cornbread; sugar-free yellow cake with chocolate-peanut butter icing for Tony’s birthday.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Thai chicken skewers, spring vegetable salad from Earth Fare; Indian tomato soup, vegetable pakora, chicken curry, rice, naan at Bombay Grill in Fairlawn; hot tea, tom yum soup with seafood and pan-fried pork dumplings with garlicky dipping sauce (yeow!) at House of Hunan in Fairlawn; fennel-crusted skirt steak over fingerling potatoes, wilted spinach, banana peppers, onions and tomatoes with a glass of red wine at Wise Guys in Akron; a hot dog with Stadium Mustard and onions, peanuts and a beer at Canal Park in Akron at a Rubber Ducks game; two egg rolls from China Star in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From R. C.:
Loved your column on Akron-area Chinese restaurants. I have struggled to find tasty Chinese food in our area, also. We were great fans of China Gourmet on West Market Street in Akron before it became a Starbucks.

Two questions: Do you have favorite dishes at Chin’s? Can you tell us about your favorite Chinese restaurants in Cleveland? Thanks.

Dear R.C.:
OK, those are tough questions because I have a hard time remembering from trip to trip. I know that Elaine Chin’s father, chef-owner until he retired and passed the business to Elaine, was a Cantonese-style dim sum chef in China. So I usually stick with the Cantonese dishes, although I have had good Mongolian beef there. I often order the moo shu pork.

In Cleveland, I usually go to Vietnamese restaurants with Tony because he loves pho. I like the dim sum at Li Wah. I wasn’t impressed with ballyhooed Noodlecat (not Chinese but Asian). A restaurant on my radar that I haven’t tried yet is Han Chinese Kabob in Payne Commons. Next trip.

You didn’t ask, but I have to put in a plug for Basil Asian Bistro in Canton, which has modern pan-Asian dishes that are delicious. I’d go once a week if it were closer.

From Christine R.:
I have heard people rave about Ming Hing in Orrville.

Christine:
Thanks. Any visitors have an opinion?

From Nancy H.:
I just read your latest newsletter and wanted to share a black bean sauce tip from the late, great Barbara Tropp. In her “China Moon” cookbook she suggests soaking the black beans in some xiao xing wine (or dry sherry) for about 20 minutes before adding to the dish. Strain the liquid and save it to add to your sauce ingredients. It really amps up the good flavors and textures of the dish.

Dear Nancy:
I would trust anything Barbara Tropp says. I actually got to dine at her China Moon restaurant in San Francisco years ago, and I had her cookbook. She was sweet and talented, and I lamented her death in 2001. I remember being blown away by a terrific dessert she made, ginger ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I made it several times. It is time-consuming but so worth it.

April 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I am so hungry for Chinese food. And I am so sick of anemic-tasting stir frys a 10-year-old could make with a couple of cans of La Choy and a wok. I need to find a good Chinese restaurant. Chin’s in Highland Square and House of Hunan in Fairlawn are the only places I have found that satisfy, depending on where you land on their menus.

Tip: If you see “Bourbon Chicken” on a Chinese menu, it could be a clue the stir frys come frozen from a warehouse in Timbuktu. Bourbon chicken is a staple of Chinese buffet restaurants that buy their stir frys wholesale. Bourbon is American, folks, not Chinese.

In an effort to winkle out the decent homemade dishes on a multi-page Chinese restaurant menu, I ask the waitress which dish is the cook’s specialty. I don’t know why I do this because the answer invariably is “everything is good” or a finger pointed to a list headlined “Chef’s Specialties” that cover every region of China and are the most expensive items on the menu.

Is there a real chef in the kitchen at any of these restaurants? Maybe he or she makes something good for their families and friends, while saving the trite moo goo gai pans for their American customers.

In my reporter years, I once tried to find out if this was true. I interviewed Chinese restaurant chefs all over the area to determine their provinces of origin and get recipes for dishes they make at home. Only a couple (at Chin’s and House of Hunan, in fact) were chefs before they emigrated. The rest decided to open a restaurant and wing it after they got here.

This reminds me of the guy who phoned me at the newspaper once for advice. He was thinking of opening a Mexican restaurant and wondered whether I thought it was a good idea. “Do you know a lot about Mexican food?” I asked. “No,” he said. “I just thought it might be popular.”

Anyway, if I want to eat Chinese I must travel from Copley to Highland Square or dress up (i.e, change out of pajamas or a track suit) and go to House of Hunan or drive to Cleveland. A fourth alternative is to make some Chinese food myself, which I did last week after I tossed out a pitiful version of chicken in black bean sauce from a Norton Chinese restaurant.

“How hard can it be to make this?” I wondered. Not hard, it turns out. The most difficult part is finding the fermented black beans. Unless you have an unruly pantry like mine, it will require a trip to an Asian store.

In Irene Kuo’s excellent book, “The Key to Chinese Cooking,” the recipe for the sauce is ridiculously simple: soy sauce, sherry, sugar and water. The black beans are stir fried with the chicken, ginger, garlic and vegetables. The sauce is thickened with a cornstarch slurry and finished with a swirl of sesame oil. The result is a tawny, glazed stir fry with tons of flavor.

Kuo starts with a whole chicken that she hacks, bones and all, into 1-inch pieces. I used bone-in thighs instead but next time will opt for boneless because we didn’t like eating around all the slivers of bone. Your choice.

CHICKEN IN BLACK BEAN SAUCE

1 frying chicken, about 2/12 lbs., or 8 bone-in or boneless thighs
1 large onion cut into 1-inch squares
2 medium bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
2 quarter-size slices peeled ginger, minced
2 tbsp. fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped

Seasonings:
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup water

Also:
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp. water (I ultimately used double the amount)
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sesame oil

Cut the chicken or bone-in thighs through the bones into 1-inch pieces. Or cut the boneless thighs into similar-size pieces. Place in a bowl and line up near the stove with the onions, peppers, ginger, black beans and garlic, all in separate piles. Mix the seasonings. Dissolve the cornstarch in a small bowl; have the sesame oil nearby. All this may be done hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate the chicken and vegetables, then bring to room temperature before stir frying.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirl and heat for 30 seconds. Scatter in the onions and peppers and stir fry vigorously with the salt until they are just beginning to lose their raw edge. Remove to a dish.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, heat a few seconds, and sear the ginger, black beans and garlic for a few seconds, stirring all the time. Add the chicken and toss and stir until all the pieces are yellow-whitish. Add the seasonings mixture, stir and when it bubbles, turn heat to medium, cover and let the chicken steam-cook vigorously for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, turn the heat to high, add the onions and bell pepper and stir in sweeping, tossing motions for 1 minute. Give the cornstarch mixture a big stir and pour into the pan, stirring until the chicken and vegetables are smoothly glazed. If the sauce is too thin, quickly make and add more cornstarch slurry. Add the sesame oil, give the contents a few sweeping folds and pour into a hot serving dish. Makes 4 servings.

From “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo.

Note from Jane: If you don’t cook the stir fry at a high enough heat, which can be a problem with home stoves and fear of spatters, the chicken will release so much moisture that the sauce will require at least double the thickening.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A detox green smoothie; chicken in black bean sauce, steamed rice; hamburgers; roast chicken with ginger-garlic sauce; DiGiorno’s frozen pizza.

What I ate in /from restaurants:
Half a meatball sub from Subway; bacon-wrapped meat loaf, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes and a glass of Malbec wine at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton; a hot Italian sub at Primo’s Deli.

THE MAILBAG
From Sandy D.:
In response to your question about foods we once disliked….I will be 60 years old in June. About three months ago I started eating cottage cheese for the first time in my life. I could never stand the texture before, I guess. Now I eat it almost daily, especially since I’ve discovered Hood’s brand.

Next up I will be attempting to make my own as I do ricotta — can’t beat homemade!

From Diana H.:
When I was pregnant with my first child we had feta cheese in a salad at a Greek festival and it was AWFUL! So I never ate it for years. One day I had a Greek salad and just knew I did not like feta cheese but took a bite anyway. Then I realized how much I LOVED it! Probably pregnancy gave me funky tastebuds for feta. It tastes so good and I enjoy it every time I have a Greek salad.

Dear Sandy and Diana:
How interesting that you both once disliked a particular cheese. I can’t think of a cheese I dislike, although there’s probably one somewhere that I’d turn up my nose at. I eat cottage cheese several times a week because it’s a good source of lean protein and I like it. Feta may be my favorite everyday cheese. It is relatively low in fat and has a mild but distinct salty flavor. I use it in tacos, all kinds of salads, omelets and even on pizza.

Very few foods are on my hate list. Among them are natto — slimy Japanese fermented soybeans — and tripe, which I’ve tried to like but whose texture puts me off.